One of the biggest advantages to carrying a 13-inch laptop is its sleek portability, so it's almost a pity to carry your MacBook, MacBook Air, or ThinkPad X301 in a bulky laptop case. At least, that's the philosophy behind the Ristretto Messenger ($90) from Seattle-based designer Tom Bihn, which provides just enough space for your ultraportable laptop and a few accessories, but not much else.
Available in your choice of five color combinations (we test-drove the green bag with an orange interior), the vertically oriented Ristretto Messenger measures 12.5 inches tall, 10.5 inches wide, and 3 inches thick. Like most messenger bags, it includes a top flap that's held closed by a large plastic buckle; however, the buckle on the Ristretto is off center, and the flap features an unusual diagonal cut that adds visual interest.
Inside, the open main compartment includes a lightly padded laptop pocket that's lined with soft brushed nylon; a top flap folds over and behind the laptop's edge like an envelope to keep it in place and protected. The front wall of this main compartment incorporates two organizer pockets, each large enough for a smartphone, MP3 player, or wallet, plus two pen loops. Clipped onto a ring on one of the side walls is a handy key fob; you can attach one of the company's organizer pouches (sold separately) to the ring if you'd prefer. What's left of the narrow main compartment is entirely open and is roomy enough to accommodate a power cord and a paperback book.
On the front of the bag (but still under the top flap) is an asymmetrical slip pocket that's just large enough to hold a file folder; behind it, a large zipper pocket securely holds a wallet, checkbook, and other valuables. On the back, a diagonal pocket keeps a magazine or other reading material within easy reach.
We packed the Ristretto Messenger with our black MacBook, power cable, a letter-size spiral notebook, a paperback, a smartphone, two pens, and our wallet and keys--about what we'd expect to carry for an afternoon of work at the local coffee shop. The bag was full, but not bursting; in fact, the Cordura fabric held its shape well. Even fully loaded the bag was comfortable to carry on its 1.5-inch-wide adjustable nylon strap, which includes a wide nonslip pad to help hold the strap in place. (The company does offer two alternative strap choices, which cost between $15 and $20 to add.) In addition, a waist strap helps keep the Ristretto from sliding around, though it looks a little uncool; the strap is removable if you find you don't use it.
Overall, we were pleased with the style and construction of the Ristretto Messenger. Our biggest complaint lies in the price: at $90, this is one expensive laptop bag. Also, because we regularly commute in the rain, we'd worry that the bag's open, messenger style would leave our laptop exposed to the elements, however slightly. Nevertheless, the bag's minimalist design and sturdy construction will hold tremendous appeal to the day-tripper or cafe worker who owns a 13-inch (or smaller) laptop.